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Nonstandard vocabulary of extreme informality, usually not limited to any region. It includes newly coined words, shortened forms, and standard words used playfully out of their usual context. Slang is drawn from the vocabularies of limited groups: cant, the words or expressions coined or adopted by an age, ethnic, occupational, or other group (e.g., college students, jazz musicians); jargon, the shoptalk or technical terminology specific to an occupation; and argot, the cant and jargon used as a secret language by thieves or other criminals. Occupying a middle ground between standard and informal words accepted by the general public and the special words or expressions of these subgroups, slang often serves as a testing ground for words in the latter category. Many prove either useful enough to become accepted as standard or informal words or too faddish for standard use. Blizzard and okay have become standard, while conbobberation (disturbance) and tomato (girl) have been discarded. Some words and expressions have a lasting place in slang; for instance, beat it (go away), first used in the 16th century, has neither become standard English nor vanished.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on slang, visit Britannica.com.